STORY/VIDEO - Grounds Keeper: new plants to flourish on historical preserve

New lease of life for Marco’s historic Otter Mound Preserve bolstered by archeological finds

Article Highlights

  • The small, two-acre public park and preserve in the Estates area of the island was recently stripped of many of the exotic, invasive species threatening to choke it
  • It is important because it is the nucleus of the Caxambas Point midden (a site containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life),

Replanting the historic mound

Melissa Hennig explains the replant and dig

Volunteer Jean Belknap sifts through dirt and shells in search of Indian artifacts during a dig Thursday at the Otter Mound historical preserve on Marco Island. The dig, overseen by archeologist John Beriault of the Archeological and Historical Conservancy based in Davie, Fla., coincided with the planting of hundreds of native plants  following the recent removal of exotics that were choking the preserve. The planting was overseen by Melissa Hennig, principal environment specialist with the Conservation Collier Program.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Staff

Volunteer Jean Belknap sifts through dirt and shells in search of Indian artifacts during a dig Thursday at the Otter Mound historical preserve on Marco Island. The dig, overseen by archeologist John Beriault of the Archeological and Historical Conservancy based in Davie, Fla., coincided with the planting of hundreds of native plants following the recent removal of exotics that were choking the preserve. The planting was overseen by Melissa Hennig, principal environment specialist with the Conservation Collier Program.

Melissa Hennig, foreground, readies native plants while Kirsten Wilkie looks on. Both are Conservation Collier.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Staff

Melissa Hennig, foreground, readies native plants while Kirsten Wilkie looks on. Both are Conservation Collier.

Workers prepare the area for planting.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Staff

Workers prepare the area for planting.

A new plant awaits being covered up. The cartons contain irrigation gel, which together with rainwater provides slow release irrigation for the young plants.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Staff

A new plant awaits being covered up. The cartons contain irrigation gel, which together with rainwater provides slow release irrigation for the young plants.

Hands grimy from sifting through dirt, Jean Belknap inspects a piece of Indian pottery she estimated dated back about 2,000 years.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Staff

Hands grimy from sifting through dirt, Jean Belknap inspects a piece of Indian pottery she estimated dated back about 2,000 years.

Marco Island’s Otter Mound Preserve is today richer by 464 native Florida plants, courtesy of a Conservation Collier initiative and a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The small, two-acre public park and preserve in the Estates area of the island was recently stripped of many of the exotic, invasive species threatening to choke it.

In conjunction with a replanting headed Thursday, July 30 by Melissa Hennig, Principal Environmental Specialist with Conservation Collier, a team of archeologists was on hand to sift through dirt brought to the surface as the plant holes were drilled by augur.

At the end of the day, both teams were happy.

Hennig oversaw the successful planting of species such as Jamaican caper, seagrape, fire bush, rouge, snowberry lantana, limber caper, wild poppy, white indigo berry and blue porterweed.

In addition, and as if on cue, her prayers for rain as soon as possible were answered later in the afternoon.

For the archeologists, the first find of the day came from Jean Belknap, a regular Southwest Florida Archeological Society volunteer.

“It’s a piece of Indian pottery,” she said, displaying a nondescript specimen about half the size of a marble.

Later, Belknap unearthed a slightly bigger piece, which she estimated would be about 2,000 years old.

For archeologist John Beriault, outings such as this are always interesting.

“We’ve been doing ongoing work here for the past nine years,” he said.

“It is important because it is the nucleus of the Caxambas Point midden (a site containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life), and there’s an abundance of food and refuse from the Indian occupation going back about 2,000 years,” Beriault said.

He said waste as such is not exciting (“If you found it on your rug, you’d assume your cat threw up”), but it does provide valuable information in its preserved states.

Beriault said the shell wall that is clearly visible from Addison Court was not actually built by Indians, but instead by Ernest Otter, after whom the preserve is named.

He lived in the area around the 1940s, Beriault said.

Hennig said a third tier to the replanting and archeological project is that once canopied by the native plants, Otter Mound Preserve will again be attractive to migratory birds looking for stop-overs.

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